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You're not broken: People share experiences with intrusive thoughts to help normalize them

'I was today years old when I realized there was a word for this.'

mental health; intrusive thoughts; anxiety; OCD; ADHD

People share experiences with intrusive thoughts.

When I was younger I used to think I was dying or that I would get kidnapped by a random stranger, but I kept it to myself because I thought something was wrong with me. I thought that telling people would confirm this fear, so I kept it inside my entire life until I was an adult and learned it was part of ADHD and other disorders, such as OCD and PTSD. But it doesn't have to be part of a disorder at all—a vast amount of people just have intrusive thoughts, and a Twitter user, Laura Gastón, is trying to normalize them for others.


Gastón tweeted that parents should talk to their children about intrusive thoughts and normalize them so children aren't afraid that they're broken. The response to her series of tweets was overwhelming, with more than 144,000 likes and 19,000 retweets. People chimed in with their own stories of intrusive thoughts and the stigma attached to them. One Twitter user was told that they were possessed and their parents sought spiritual counsel to help them. But intrusive thoughts aren't a spiritual attack, they don't even have to be negative thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are simply thoughts that pop into your head with no reason or logical connection to what is currently happening.

The name for the phenomenon sounds scarier than it actually is. It may help to think of the thoughts as a pop-up on an online article you're reading. There you are scrolling along, really invested in this article and an ad for teeth whitening strips is suddenly obscuring half the page, so you find the camouflaged "X" and close it out. But somehow before you make it to the bottom of the page, there's that dang pop-up again. That's what it's like to have an intrusive thought most of the time. It's not always scary, it's not all-consuming, it's just there.

There are some intrusive thoughts that are distressing, especially if it's a new thought. Often the thoughts that cause the most distress are the intrusive thoughts around hurting a child or doing something illegal. Having an intrusive thought that is concerning doesn't mean you're going to act on it. Our brains think thousands of thoughts daily and most of the time we are unaware of all of the activity because we're focused on one particular thing, but then we have a pop-up.

Photo by christopher lemercier on Unsplash

You could be struggling with finances in general but at the moment you're working on a collage of sea turtles with your 9-year-old, next thing you know you have an intrusive thought about robbing a bank. Are you going to rob a bank? No, because you're not a bank robber. Well, most people are not bank robbers so having the fleeting thought isn't going to make you become one. It might make you think you've lost it for a few minutes, but it's a completely normal human experience. Intrusive thoughts, not robbing banks.

Kids have intrusive thoughts as well, and it seems from the Twitter thread, that sometimes they're dismissed by parents. Anna tweeted, "yes. I had severe intrusive thoughts in childhood, starting before age 7-8. I told my parents & asked for help but they refused. It was terrifying. I had no idea what was happening." She went on to say that she was diagnosed with OCD as an adult and is currently in therapy.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Another user, Benjamin tweeted, "I was today years old when I learned that there is a word for this. I have a few of these that come in ebbs and flows over the years - at least since early elementary age. Literally have just ignored it and tried to move on 😳 Kinda relieving to know others experience this."

Alicia explained that as a teen she contemplated suicide. "My intrusive thoughts made me fear for the safety of others and I felt the only solace was my passing. I cried tears of joy upon learning they happened to a lot of people."

The responses to the tweet go on and on with people sharing their experiences with intrusive thoughts and some sharing ways they have learned to cope with them. What it all comes down to in the end is that these thoughts are much more common that people realize and it should absolutely be talked about more. No person deserves to walk around assuming they're somehow broken for having a human experience.

Identity

Celebrate International Women's Day with these stunning photos of female leaders changing the world

The portraits, taken by acclaimed photographer Nigel Barker, are part of CARE's "She Leads the World" campaign.

Images provided by CARE

Kadiatu (left), Zainab (right)

True

Women are breaking down barriers every day. They are transforming the world into a more equitable place with every scientific discovery, athletic feat, social justice reform, artistic endeavor, leadership role, and community outreach project.

And while these breakthroughs are happening all the time, International Women’s Day (Mar 8) is when we can all take time to acknowledge the collective progress, and celebrate how “She Leads the World.

This year, CARE, a leading global humanitarian organization dedicated to empowering women and girls, is celebrating International Women’s Day through the power of portraiture. CARE partnered with high-profile photographer Nigel Barker, best known for his work on “America’s Next Top Model,” to capture breathtaking images of seven remarkable women who have prevailed over countless obstacles to become leaders within their communities.

“Mabinty, Isatu, Adama, and Kadiatu represent so many women around the world overcoming incredible obstacles to lead their communities,” said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA.

Barker’s bold portraits, as part of CARE’s “She Leads The World” campaign, not only elevate each woman’s story, but also shine a spotlight on how CARE programs helped them get to where they are today.

About the women:

Mabinty

international womens day, care.org

Mabinty is a businesswoman and a member of a CARE savings circle along with a group of other women. She buys and sells groundnuts, rice, and fuel. She and her husband have created such a successful enterprise that Mabinty volunteers her time as a teacher in the local school. She was the first woman to teach there, prompting a second woman to do so. Her fellow teachers and students look up to Mabinty as the leader and educator she is.

Kadiatu

international womens day, care.org

Kadiatu supports herself through a small business selling food. She also volunteers at a health clinic in the neighboring village where she is a nursing student. She tests for malaria, works with infants, and joins her fellow staff in dancing and singing with the women who visit the clinic. She aspires to become a full-time nurse so she can treat and cure people. Today, she leads by example and with ambition.

Isatu

international womens day, care.org

When Isatu was three months pregnant, her husband left her, seeking his fortune in the gold mines. Now Isatu makes her own way, buying and selling food to support her four children. It is a struggle, but Isatu is determined to be a part of her community and a provider for her kids. A single mother of four is nothing if not a leader.

Zainab

international womens day, care.org

Zainab is the Nurse in Charge at the Maternal Child Health Outpost in her community. She is the only nurse in the surrounding area, and so she is responsible for the pre-natal health of the community’s mothers-to-be and for the safe delivery of their babies. In a country with one of the world’s worst maternal death rates, Zainab has not lost a single mother. The community rallies around Zainab and the work she does. She describes the women who visit the clinic as sisters. That feeling is clearly mutual.

Adama

international womens day, care.org

Adama is something few women are - a kehkeh driver. A kehkeh is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, known elsewhere as a tuktuk. Working in the Kissy neighborhood of Freetown, Adama is the primary breadwinner for her family, including her son. She keeps her riders safe in other ways, too, by selling condoms. With HIV threatening to increase its spread, this is a vital service to the community.

Ya Yaebo

international womens day, care.org

“Ya” is a term of respect for older, accomplished women. Ya Yaebo has earned that title as head of her local farmers group. But there is much more than that. She started as a Village Savings and Loan Association member and began putting money into her business. There is the groundnut farm, her team buys and sells rice, and own their own oil processing machine. They even supply seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture. She has used her success to the benefit of people in need in her community and is a vocal advocate for educating girls, not having gone beyond grade seven herself.

On Monday, March 4, CARE will host an exhibition of photography in New York City featuring these portraits, kicking off the multi-day “She Leads the World Campaign.

Learn more, view the portraits, and join CARE’s International Women's Day "She Leads the World" celebration at CARE.org/sheleads.


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